Positively Osceola reached out to influential community leaders, inviting them to reflect on the year 2023 and to provide their thoughts and aspirations for 2024. Among those consulted for their perspective and vision for the new year was Hope Partnership CEO Reverend Mary Lee Downey.

Happy 2024! This year marks Hope Partnership’s 11th anniversary year of impact in Central Florida. We’ve served over 100,000 of our neighbors since our inception in 2013. The past year alone we’ve addressed food insecurity with more than 3,100 heartbeats and moved 233 individuals into stable housing!  We remain committed to this community, and our work would not be possible without the support of our community partners.

We began our mission in response to the 2008 financial crisis and the housing crisis it created. Today, we find ourselves addressing the challenges of an escalating rental market coupled with stagnant wages in the economy. Families working full-time jobs are struggling to secure affordable housing, with many forced into hotels and motels. The reality is this: workers need to earn $27.35 an hour to afford a modest one-bedroom rental, while our local hospitality economy heavily relies on minimum wage jobs. It is impossible for those earning minimum wage to make ends meet in our community. We need a radical change in how we approach housing in Central Florida, especially when it comes to our low-income tourism workforce.

This year is poised to be a transformative year for Hope Partnership as we unveil our ambitious project – THRIVE Studios, a 34-unit hotel undergoing conversion into affordable housing. I’m so excited about creating this space for our community. We believe in the fundamental right of everyone to have a safe place to call home, and THRIVE Studios will play a crucial role in realizing this vision. The construction process is our next milestone, and we can’t wait to accept applications for rental units as soon as we are able. These units will be specifically reserved for those earning at or below 60% of the area median income.

What sets THRIVE Studios apart is not just its function as affordable housing but also its commitment to trauma-informed property management. This approach will ensure a welcoming, peaceful, healthy, and secure environment that supports healing and recovery. Our commitment extends beyond shelter – THRIVE Studios will offer on-site services such as intensive case management that will provide a holistic approach to helping our community members reach self-determined success. 

We are building an innovative model that we hope will inspire other communities to follow our lead. Our goal is not merely for families to survive — we want them to thrive. As we take these steps into the new year, we are truly grateful to our community partners whose support makes this work possible. With our housing plans plus all the other services Hope Partnership provides — IDS, access to rapid-rehousing, youth homelessness navigation, Hope Cares Days, and more — I know that together, we can build a future where everyone has a safe place to call home. 

Reverend Mary Lee Downey

CEO, Hope Partnership